Real Life

This Christmas surprise brightened up the lives of one Victorian family

These two kids deserved to smile
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Meagan Clarke, 36, from Traralgon, Victoria, shares her story with Take 5’s Mitchell Jordan:

Pine trees towered above me and my kids as we walked through the forest.

“It’s like we’re in the North Pole,” Taylor, 12, cried out, as Roy, eight, gazed in wonderment.

She had a point.

It was 2021, and if it wasn’t an Australian summer with blue skies and sun, I wouldn’t have been surprised to see Santa Claus and his elves wandering around.

Instead, we were met by my best mate, Belle.

Belle with Taylor and Roy (Image: supplied)

“Are you guys ready?” she asked, grabbing her camera.

“Yeah!” the kids cried.

Belle is a photographer who runs her own business, Belle Chapman Photography & The Forevermore Initiative, and takes gorgeous portrait photos for families going through cancer.

It’s something very close to her heart as Belle lost her own father to cancer when she was just four years old.

I felt so sorry for my friend who’d grown up without her dad; I couldn’t imagine how hard it must have been.

Taylor and Roy have spent a lot of time in hospital (Image: supplied)

But when my daughter Taylor was two years old, she’d been diagnosed with neurofibromatosis type 1 (NF1), a condition characterised by changes in skin colouring and the growth of tumours along nerves.

By the time she was five, we found out my girl had a benign mass which was inoperable and would only keep growing bigger.

Doctors couldn’t give me answers as to what the future might hold for our family.

Giving birth to her brother, Roy, four years later, had brought some joy and hope back into our lives.

Taylor was so protective of her little bro, but when he was four, I noticed the same spots, which were a characteristic of NF1, on his skin and got him checked.

This can’t be happening again, I thought.

Meagan with her kids (Image: supplied)

It was still a shock when Roy was diagnosed with the same form of NF1 as his big sister.

As her mass remained inoperable, Taylor had now been granted treatment under compassionate grounds, meaning many more hospital visits.

Both my children suffer cognitive difficulties, like not being able to make decisions or concentrate, so life since the double-diagnosis has been a roller-coaster ride for us all.

I spent so much time in and out of hospital that I was frequently exhausted and, with Christmas looming, I wondered what I could possibly do to raise my kids’ spirits when I was so worn out myself.

That’s when Belle got in touch with me.

The photo shoot was so much fun (Photo by Belle Chapman Photography)

“Let me do a photoshoot for Taylor and Roy,” she kindly offered.

She’d always taken photos of my children when they visited Santa each year, and I knew she’d do a great job.

So we came along to the nearby farm, where she’d arranged a giant red lounge and a teddy with a Santa hat for us to sit and pose on.

It was the best day ever.

Two happy kids (Photo by Belle Chapman Photography)

For 30 minutes, we forgot all the worry and uncertainty we’d been living with and simply enjoyed the magic of Christmas.

They say the camera doesn’t lie and it’s true: when I look at those stunning photos I see two very special children who will always mean the world to me.

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